1. If you chose Everything, you are among a noble, but misguided group of people who are thoroughly frustrated by being slowed down by pain. You have been dedicated to finding a fix for your condition and impatiently waiting to resume moving at the rapid pace you used to run through each day. You lament how much you used to do, continually comparing yourself to your pre-pain self.
Solution: Break down your Everything into tangible bite size pieces. What specifically would you choose to spend your time doing if you felt better? Pain can push us to prioritize what is truly important. Everything cannot be important anymore, so as much as you are tempted to fight it, begin to narrow your focus to what you really care about and allow this value to be at the forefront of each day. This will be a challenge if you are used to doing it all or thinking that you should be able to. Letting go of this old belief will make room for creatively reaching toward what you most value.
2. If you chose More of What I am Already Doing, this is an indication that you are already plugged into those activities that you value, but unsatisfied with the level you are currently participating in them. Your identity may be tightly entwined with your accomplishments.
Solution: Ask yourself, when will it be enough? When will I be satisfied with what I accomplish? Do I hold myself to a realistic and flexible standard? Pain does slow us down, but this is not always a negative thing. It can open us up to the beauty of seemingly small everyday things that often go unrecognized until we are brought to the moment. Discomfort can bring us to the moment, but it is up to us to find the beauty contained in that moment.
3. If you chose Clean My House, you may be among the many obsessively clean people or among the multitudes who are overwhelmed with too much stuff.
Solution: Your home may be messier than you prefer because you cannot scrub, stand, reach, or bend as easily as you used to. However, it may improve your daily quality of life to let go of some cleaning ideals and at the same time, simplify your environment. Having too much stuff to maintain makes it harder to navigate your home when you are hurting. Redirect your attention to those items that bring you the most joy – books, favorite heirlooms, artwork – and discard as much clutter as you can. This will free up space and energy for the relationships and activities that matter to you more than a clean house while at the same time tidying things up.
4. If you answered Get Back to Work, this is a good sign that you seek meaningful activities and find purpose in what you do. Many people have found that letting go of what they used to do is like losing part of their identity. On the other hand, dissatisfaction on the job is associated with more pain -- so finding ways to enjoy work to some degree is important.
Solution: If you used to do work that would be harmful for you to return to, the harsh reality may be that you will have to reinvent yourself. List your current skills and other skills you may wish to acquire. The fear of failure can be strong, but do not underestimate yourself even with physical limitations. Many activities within a job can be modified, as there are hundreds of thousands of people living and working with chronic pain. At first, many people cannot imagine doing anything other than their previous vocation; however, those open to reinvention sometimes find even more fulfilling work than before.
5. If you said Exercise, you may be among the many people who have given up your favorite sport or exercise routine due to a painful condition. This is frustrating as a sedentary lifestyle can tumble into a myriad of other health problems. Dr. James Levine has said to the Los Angeles Times, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” Americans sit upwards of 13 hours per day between desk work and screen time at home. This does not include the 7-8 hours we spend in bed! But how do we exercise with chronic pain?
Solution: How much are you moving currently? Starting at your actual current baseline is the key to beginning a movement routine and gradually, gradually, increase in very small steps. This is the best way to reach your newly revamped realistic movement goals while avoiding major setbacks. You may not be able to do the gym workout you used to, but gentle movements are still movements and movement is essential for chronic pain and the prevention of many illnesses. Americans watch an average of 4 hours of television each day. What would it be like to add 4 minutes of easy movements to each of those 4 hours? That would be 16 minutes of movement in bite size chunks.
Exercise may not look how it used to. Many people with chronic pain find that pool therapy or stationary bikes work best for them. Others find the movements of qi gong or tai chi are easier than yoga or Pilates, and you still get the benefits of increased circulation, improved balance, better mood and deeper sleep. Build your tolerance slowly and then gradually increase the “dose.”
Date of last modification: 9-27-2016
About the author: Jessica Del Pozo, Ph.D. Dr. Del Pozo is the founder of PACE, a four-week chronic pain management program (www.paceforpain.org). PACE provides cognitive-behavioral therapies and mindfulness training for those with chronic pain as well as consulting and training services for healthcare providers. She is also the co-author of The Gut Solution (www.thegutsolution.com), a book for families with IBS utilizing SEEDS (Stress, Education, Exercise, Diet and Sleep), a biopsychosocial approach to IBS and RAP. Dr. Del Pozo is also on staff of a multi-disciplinary pain management program at Kaiser Permanente, where she helps many patients refocus their strengths to manage pain without opioid medications.